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l'enfer du North Island

  next week it'll be pitch black Monday, 31 March 2008 link

It's definitely that time of year. We've caught four mice in the last fortnight (three within 12 hours), and we've started seeing male spiders roaming around the house, pedipalps loaded with sperm, looking for eight-legged booty. Indian summer aside, autumn's definitely hit; we've got another six days of daylight saving and then it's fully fledged into the slow slide to winter. So I think two things. First, I must get around to bringing the barbecue back into the garage. Second, I need to buy bulk AAAs, because all my bike lights are dead. I’ll say this, though: LEDs mean that you do get an entire winter’s worth of commuting out of a set of batteries.

Interesting bike related article from Shut Up and Drink The Kool-Aid about relative pricing of bicycles over the last few years. Executive summary is that market forces and strong currencies combined with a manufacturing base in Asia has meant that you’ve been able to get silly amounts of bang for your buck. This is about to change. The article’s well worth a read for why.

And my other recent find: I’ve always vaguely wanted my knuckles tattooed, you know. The problem is, I’ve wanted to get “LEFT” on my right hand and “HAND” on my left hand. But this might give people the wrong impression.

  unfortunate side effect Saturday, 29 March 2008 link

You know, I hate being Mr Pinpoint Stickler for Phylogenetic Accuracy in Media Depictions, but sometimes I just have to be that guy. So Curious George, he's a curious little monkey, right? Then why doesn't he have a tail? He's clearly meant to be some sort of ape, not a monkey! Honestly.

Of course, it's at times like this, that you find that no matter how pointlessly nitpicking about unimportant matters you are, Wikipedia has got there first.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day - sunshine, little wind, everyone walking along the waterfront looking happy. So of course I went and lay inside in a darkened room.

More specifically, I went to see Aniwaniwa at the City Gallery. It's an interesting installation: it involves lying down inside a darkened room, looking up at large carved boxes that look like nothing so much as flying saucer meets tractor tyre, which have a lightshow projected on the bottom. The exhibit itself was good fun - I like Brett Graham's work, and a previous installation of his was one of my favorites at the gallery last year. That said, one of the reasons I like it is that there's something quite intimate about lying around on the floor in a room full of strangers in the dark. It's refreshing. Go in one lunchtime and try it. I came out feeling quite energised, and I didn't even fall asleep (which, quite frankly, I can normally do sitting bolt upright at a desk, so not falling asleep when lying down in a darkened room is actually pretty good going).

What the fuck? I mean, really? I tried googling around my own website to find previous mentions of the City Gallery, and I found that googling for gallery yields some astonishing results. As in, some false ones. Check the bottom of the results list: you'll note that the preview text for some of the results includes text that the pages simply don't have (highly sexualised search terms). I'm bemused as to what's happening here and why. Presumably someone has some way of spoofing Google's cache of some pages, but I'm at a loss as to why they'd bother to do it (all they'd end up doing is redirecting slavering porn-dogs at my cycling pages). I'm presuming this is the side effect of some interesting broader exploit, but it's a bit annoying.

  and she took my hankie Tuesday, 25 March 2008 link

There should be a word for when you take something to pieces to fix a minor problem, spend an hour examining it to find out exactly what was causing the problem, give up, put it back together, and discover that the problem has gone away.

There should be another word for doing this with a helpful four-year old perched on your legs, periodically rummaging through your pockets and occasionally rearranging the spare parts that you've carefully put aside in order of removal. "Rebecca, where's the other screw that was here?" "Daddy, I'm helping!" "OK, but where's the other screw? If we don't have that, I can't put the tap back on and we don't have running water for the rest of the holiday weekend." "Sorry daddy, I put it in your toolbox." I should point out that during most of this I was lying on my back under the sink, attempting to dismantle an increasing amount of plumbing in situ. While Rebecca agitated to have her nose blown and occasionally passed me tools unasked. "Daddy, you need this."

Actually, despite what you might expect, Rebecca was pretty helpful. If you want a four year old to help in this sort of DIY fun, make sure you have a clearly delineated toolkit. While I do have the sort of toolkit that involves a portable cabinet containing a gleaming spectrum of spanners, this is pretty useless if you're asking a preschooler to pick the right think and hand it to you. I do not expect Rebecca to be able to distinguish a 5/8 Gripley in a lineup. However, my main tool bag (which contains the assortment of tools I use most often) tends to have tools with distinguishing features. I wouldn't expect Rebecca to be able to find a posidrive screwdriver, but she found the blue screwdriver in seconds. Ditto requests for the black spanner (as opposed to the shiny one). OK, at one point she handed me a chain breaker (the Park Chain Brute, which I highly recommend) when I asked for the torch, but on the whole, it went remarkably well.

And the tap in the laundry is no longer dripping. Of course, I have no idea why, but for some reason taking the whole damn thing apart (and due to the way it was mounted, this was massively more complicated than you'd expect and involved quite literally an hour of work with various spanners) and then putting it back together made it happier. Tch!

I was repeatedly asked over the weekend whether I was in town for Rock 2 Wellington. "No," I replied, "I just look like this."

  desiderata innit Friday, 21 March 2008 link

All I can say is, if Alcoholics Anonymous want to remain anonymous, they might want to move their meetings from the front room of the Johnsonville Community Centre (visible from three streets and a supermarket carpark). And they can fucking well stop glaring at anyone who stops outside to unwrap a food item for their child, too.

The other day, Rebecca walked into the living room in the morning, looked at the fish, and said "Daddy, the house is the fishes' garden."

For the curious, I can highly recommend the Curious George movie. It's utterly hilarious.

In contrast, the Curious George TV series makes no particular effort to be hilarious. It is, however, notable for having narration courtesy of William H Macy.

  persistence of vision Thursday, 20 March 2008 link

Had an excellent, if exhausting, weekend. Much of Saturday was taken up with preparations for Sunday, which was Rebecca's fourth birthday. Rebecca actually stayed overnight at her Nana's on Saturday night, arriving at about half nine on Sunday morning to rapturous applause. She was particularly chuffed with the present from her Nana - a fishtank with two fantail goldfish. This was chosen due to her intense interest in her Nana's fishtank and eagle-eyed dedication to the observation of the inhabitants. Her reaction to unwrapping the tank was great. "A fishtank!", she yelled, "I've always wanted pets!"

So that was pretty gratifying for all concerned.

Particularly so since the fish are a matched pair - both red/white, but with inverse markings (one is white laterally and red dorsally, the other vice versa). Mum explained to Rebecca that they were sisters (which, if they're female, they quite possibly are), and Rebecca promptly named them "Rebecca" and "Maggie".

The party was particularly good. As the median age of children attending was about 3, we thought that games would probably be a bit of an ask, so just set up toys in the garden and let them all run around and do stuff. It worked pretty well. We only had one casualty on the day, but he turned out all right after a trip to A&E. I got all retro kids-party on the catering, turning out chipolatas, chippies, and a pretty impressive cake (if I do say so myself). Between the cake for nursery and for the party, I ended up making three chocolate cakes in as many days. Gratifyingly, they were basically all eaten in situ (rather than having huge amounts of cake lying around for weeks). We put a lot of effort into producing a good Tuatara cake for the party, which was greeted with cries of joy and promptly consumed.

Rebecca is now ankle-deep in lego, new dresses, and a variety of costumes. And loudly and clearly declaiming that she's four and will be going to school soon. And agitating to feed the fish every morning and evening. Life is good.

This has been making its way through the blogosphere, so you've probably seen it somewhere. Particularly if you're a cyclist, but also for e.g. if you read Public Address System. Regardless, it's an excellent illustration of a very important point about human perception: If you've not seen it, look. It's great.

  i struggle against consumerism, you know Tuesday, 11 March 2008 link

The Fat Cyclist's post on having gone slightly off the rails as regards bike purchases (6 in the past year or two) touched a bit of a nerve. You might think that us cyclists were all anti-materialist hippies. That is, you might think that if you'd never been near a bike shop or actually met a keen cyclist. I personally own two bikes, as does Heather. That puts us well behind the curve. The average reader of Bicycling (most popular US cycling magazine) owns four bicycles and is planning on buying a fifth. I've routinely met people with over a dozen bikes in their sheds. Cycling is incredibly commercial, and fad-driven. There's a lot of middle-aged guys out there who think that, contrary to at least one stated opinion, it is about the bike, and who throw a lot of money at this proposition. Compulsive upgrading is standard: a lot of people not much faster than me wouldn't be seen dead with anything less than Record or Dura-Ace on their bikes. The bike industry knows this and depends on it.

This leads to active encouragement of "bike for every purpose" balkanisation. Of course you need a mountain bike. And a road bike. But what sort of MTB? If you've got a full suspension downhill bike, you need a lightish hardtail for XC hacks - and vice versa. And a singlespeed is a laugh for winter. And heck, if you've got a singlespeed, you should get a singlespeed 29er as well, they're great fun. And as to your road bike? Are we talking about your race bike, your training bike, your commuting bike? What about your beach cruiser or your fixie? And everyone needs a cyclocross bike, best of both worlds.... And hey, that race bike of yours is two years old, you need to upgrade to this year's carbon fibre, or you'll lose that valuable psychological advantage on the start line, the advantage of the other riders knowing that you're willing to expend any resource on your relentless quest for speed. Ahem.

But if you're in Auckland, pop in to MOTAT. It's got - in among the cars, trucks, trains, traction engines and model railways - one of the best historical bicycle collections in the country. Among the bikes there is Bill Pratney (Wiremu Paratene)'s old bike. Now, Bill Pratney (wikipedia bio | buy his biography) was almost certainly a damn sight faster than you are. He started racing in his teens and was still fast enough to win the Timaru to Christchurch (160km) against an open field at the age of 46. He's arguably the best ever Maori cyclist. You'll note that above, I said "Bill Pratney's old bike". Not "one of Bill Pratney's old bikes". In his early 20s, he had a bicycle made for him, with track dropouts so he could run a fixed wheel (as was standard at the time). In his 60s, when he was starting to get on a bit, one of his mates cut the rear dropouts off and replaced them so he could use gears and a freewheel. It's the only bike he had for most of his career, and the only bike he needed.

So whenever I get a bit hacked off with the intense commercialisation within the cycling world, I think of Bill Pratney's bike, and get a good feeling. You don't have to spend a lot of money or buy a lot of stuff: you can if you want, but at the end of the day all you need is a single bike, a helmet, and a pair of legs.

Of course, if you told me that I could have any five bicycles I want, I'd be able to rattle off a list of bikes straight from memory. I am only human.

For reference, my current "reasonably-priced bike I'd like" is a rigid 29er with something like a 1x8 or 1x9 gear setup as a relatively bulletproof commuter - something like a Surly Karate Monkey or On-One Inbred 29er. Actually, my dream bike is a custom-built rigid 29er with a Rohloff rear hub and a SON hub dynamo on the front, as a pretty-much maintenance free year round commuter, but since that's likely to roll in at around $6k or so I'm going to be realistic here.

One of the great things about the internet is the plethora of guides to conduct. In that spirit, I must recommend the excellent heuristic, What Would Richard Feynman Do?

  obvious disclaimer Thursday, 6 March 2008 link

They missed.

  say what? link

As you should all know by now, cycle commuting is insanely great and probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on during a workday. But - in the spirit of honesty I must admit this - it is not without its downside. Weather, hills, traffic; no, I'm not talking about those.

I'm talking about the fucktards.

Mainly it's a matter of things shouted at you as a car zooms past. Usually it's something incredibly witty about the fact that you're wearing lycra. You get used to this: a stock response like "Don't knock it until you've tried it!" works for pretty much all the usual stuff (mainly, either slurs on your sexuality or - oddly - comments like "Hey sexy-legs!" or "Nice arse!" - methinks some of the lads doth protest too much). Occasionally it gets a bit more involved. I've had a couple of bottles thrown at me, usually with minimal effect. It's no big deal but I'd be lying if I said it didn't happen.

But I had an odd one last night. As I rode home up the Ngauranga Gorge, someone threw something at me from a car. It was unusual for two reasons. Firstly, they didn't yell anything as they did it. Secondly, they threw this.

The only thing I can think of is "fork you".

  how our expectations change Tuesday, 4 March 2008 link

If - when I was 22 - you'd asked me what I'd like to be doing on a Saturday morning a decade hence - I'd probably have replied something like "lying around in bed with three gorgeous females".

This I have now achieved.

I might not have anticipated that two of them would be my children, and at least one of them would be repeatedly kicking me in the shins, demanding porrage, and trying to drag me out of bed by my wrists, but it still counts.

  we made it in time Sunday, 2 March 2008 link

Moments in time: meeting a friend for the first time for about a year, and greeting them with "Sorry, toilet emergency!" as you lead a perspiring child off towards the queue for the portaloos. Newtown Festival was very good though.

Tallpoppy logo

unspoilt by progress

calm, peaceful, sweary

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